Clever puzzles and a powerful narrative
This is a game that feels just as at home on a mobile touchscreen device as on the PC or Switch, but that’s not a bad thing. Starting off in the family house of the ghostly protagonist, you view the set-piece locations from above. Each room in the households clues about who lived there. You’ll learn about the fraught marriage of the spirit’s parents and who each of them was. Piecing together these clues (in the form of items and puzzles) moves the story forward.
Across five chapters, the Almost Gone lays out a dark, emotional tale of a broken family who made some bad choices with terrible consequences. It’s not a horror game exactly, but there are plenty of elements that make the game lean that way. The themes are definitely dark and mature, without being particularly gratuitous. The material is handled in a thoughtful and intelligent way that greatly benefits the actual gameplay.
A Puzzling Afterlife
The gameplay is largely a clever item hunt. Each location can be rotated and viewed from all sides. You control a pointer, and when it changes to an eyeball over a certain spot, it means you’ve found something to interact with. Most of what you’ll see aids the story. A snippet about an unfinished house or the ghost’s view on mom’s drinking habits, for instance.
Puzzles frequently require combining items, which is seldom a one-step process. One puzzle early on, for instance, requires you to turn on the hose attached to a house in the suburbs. You need to do this so another item stuck in the gutter will be forced down to the lawn, but the hose lacks a valve handle. This leads you to search for a tool (a wrench) found in another part of the map. There’s a lot of things like this, requiring the player to go back and forth combing each area of the map.
We have the power
Usable items automatically go into your inventory where they can be examined or used. Often times, the items must be examined to find new details or clues for other puzzles. As an example, there are combination locks throughout the game, the numbers of which must be gleaned from several other items.
Navigation is a bit of a sticking point. Each “room” in a chapter, whether it’s a literal room in a house or a piece of a neighbourhood, shows you what directions you can go from there with little circle indicators on the appropriate side. Since you can rotate each scene, it’s easy to get a little lost, and it can get repetitive to have constantly navigate from one end of the map to the other by clicking circles.
A level map for each chapter would have helped immensely, as would a quick travel option. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. Given that the set pieces making up each room look a lot like miniatures or dollhouse toys, a general zoom function would have also been welcome. The game only zooms in on certain items. While it’s not a huge problem on a larger PC monitor or TV, it can be an issue when playing on the Switch.
Another issue specific to the Switch version is the complete lack of touch controls, which is especially bizarre given the game is also headed to iOS and Android. Considering the whole visual style and design, touch controls just seem like the most natural way to play the Almost Gone.
The Almost Gone is a clever little indie. It looks great. The spare soundtrack is effective and evocative. The puzzles are smart, and the narrative is superb. It’s also a game that could easily get lost in the crowd of other releases. It deserves attention though, and is well worth playing.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch and PC]